“I’m a mentor,” or “I’m a role model,” were phrases that formed in my head one minute and became an after thought the next.
In reality, I’m too busy was my mantra. But let me see something out the box of logic on the news like the four teens who jumped a girl in McDonalds and I’m quick to say, “What’s wrong with the youth-dem,” in my make shift Caribbean accent. My connection to them is similar to my Caribbean roots connected in name only.
Growing up in Breukelen projects, I often was a move away from being in an altercation. Picture a chessboard. Visualize me as a pawn with an aspiration to become a king. Understand my own machismo, friends and the unknown rendered my moves defunct. At sixteen, I told a drug dealer to suck my dick, I had a friend who wanted to go to jail and getting jumped was normal.
A moment could go from cool to crazy as fast a tweet goes viral.
Back then; a mentor didn’t exist. Nor did I look for one. My eyes were too busy trying to comprehend my environment. I didn’t understand how cops didn’t show up when a crime happened. I understood a fight was solved in the moment. The time it took to reach for help be it family, friend or school safety could be the difference between life and death. I was aware that perception was everything. Be perceived as a punk and go through the rest of your time at school or your neighborhood being picked on by everybody from bullies to the cool geek. Hell for a teen.
Survival had never been eloquent. It was shove ‘em out the way to eradicate. If only a confrontation played out as scripted as an episode of Family Matters. Maybe a hard, “NO,” would be good enough. Maybe walking a way would be logical. Maybe a mentor would help transform a life.
The other day I went to a gun range with a group of friends. While we waited a half an hour for our turn; I couldn’t help but be impressed with my friend. He decided to teach a kid, who was shooting air balls, how to shoot a basketball. It wasn’t a big deal. But the idea was foreign to me. When I was that kid’s age most the older kids teased us. And the only kid whose father showed up to shoot hoops with us – was teased the worst. But in that moment my friend decided to be a mentor.
My saving graces were mentors. Despite not looking three came into my life. The first mentor was my boxing coach. His passion for boxing influenced my desire to be the best at any endeavor. My second mentor was a college advisor. Her passion for college helped me create a vision beyond the sixty plus acres that made up my childhood. The third were books I read. Stories like The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, The Pact by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt; Letters To A Young Brother by Hill Harper resonated with me.
I wish I could say I woke up and was like man I’m charged up for change.
Then, I drafted folks to be mentors. But it was more like I got better at navigating the streets; better at unraveling my circumstance; better at gauging who held my best interest.I found value in fitness, going away to college and stories read or written, which helped me visually reimagine myself framed in excellence.
Framed In Excellence is a blog series that show how African Americans pursue the American Dream despite being woven into dangerous, unsafe and vulnerable spaces within our nation
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment. He has been featured in several publications such as: The Chronicle, The Troy Record, Albany Student Press & UA Magazine. Find his books at www.Royalbluepublishing.com and follow his personal blog at www.rashaunjallen.com.